It's been as hot as I can ever recall July being in Southern Ontario this year. The heat has made it awfully difficult to enjoy my runs, but keeping cool and running efficiently has helped. I wanted to pass on some simple techniques to make your running a little smoother.
Easy to say, hard to do. I like to think about every muscle group from head to toe (literally), and make sure I'm not tensing up unnecessarily. I especially focus on this while on the treadmill, where it can get awfully boring! I start at the head and work my way down, ensuring I'm as relaxed as possible. Make sure you're not clenching your jaw and your facial muscles are relaxed. Don't tense your arms and don't ball up your fists. Shake your hands out gently. Make sure your legs flow freely and loosely.
Staying loose allows your running form to begin to flow more naturally and smoothly. Unnecessary tension can lead to early fatigue.
2. Breathe Rhythmically.
Again, really easy to tell you to do, but difficult to achieve practically. I like to tell newer runners to try and inhale and exhale for as close to an equal length of time as possible. If you can, try to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. This slows the inhalation phase, and keeps the mouth from drying out. The nose also filters out a little of the air pollution and smog we've been experiencing with all this heat!
I also suggest maintaining a fixed rhythm of breathing with your foot strikes, although each individual needs to find the rate that work best for them. For example, perhaps it's 4 strides for every breath in, and 4 strides for each breath out for you. For an elite runner it could be as slow as every 6 or 8 steps for each breath. Again, try and keep it as even as possible.
3. Efficient Forward Motion.
The goal in running, ultimately, is to move a body forward through space. So, try to picture your body moving as smoothly, and in as straight a line as possible. Think of your arms and legs as pistons propelling your body, and moving only up and down. Try to avoid swaying side to side. Envision your arms moving in smooth arcs taking you forward.
4. Look Forward, Not Down.
I see far too many people looking down at their feet when they run. Not only is this potentially dangerous, as you aren't paying attention to traffic and your surroundings, but it also leads to poor form. Keep your head up, and focus your vision on a spot about 50 yards down the road. That "spot" should remain relatively steady as you move forward. If it seems to be bouncing, your stride is getting too long.
5. Focus on Foot Strike.
Finally, really focus on your foot strike. Land gently on your heel, and roll forward, all the way to your tiptoes. Think of your foot as a rocker bottom, and try to roll through the entire length of your step. Think about springing off your toes to maximize your next stride. Using this technique will cushion your foot stike, and explode into your next step.
Although this is condensed into 5 steps, it's quite a bit to think about. On your next run, pick one of them, and really focus on making a small change. Keep adding more, and as they become second nature I think you'll soon find your runs effortless!
Let me know what other techniques you use!